Category Archives: Activist

Stuff.co.nz writer picks on 3 year old for attention grabbing headline

Part One: Shoddy Writing

You wouldn’t believe my surprise on Wednesday morning when I woke up to see that my child had, overnight, become the poster boy for malnourished children on a “worrying” vegan diet.

14088733_10210328172590666_1612645170_nDespite never having met Ames, Stuff.co.nz writer Shabnam Dastgheib took it upon herself to put a picture of him on the internet, with the title “Worry over vegan babies”. Keep in mind, that being only three years old, Ames is incapable of reading this article, and totally unable to defend himself. This is not journalism, this is bullying – plain and simple.

Shabnam, as a parent, I must ask; what has prompted you to target a child in your desperate attempt to get people to click on your headline? Ames is a lovely, friendly young boy, and the last thing he needs is to have you writing baseless articles framing him in a negative light. Unlike you or I, growing up in the internet age, through his childhood and teenage years, Ames will have the unfortunately reality of having everything he posts to social media recorded for the rest of human history. This is the worst introduction to this world you could have provided him. Isn’t there some sort of ethical code that journalists are meant to follow?

I ask you to apologise. Not to me, and not to Jessie, but to Ames – the child you have placed in harm’s way. I don’t mean a formal, editorial apology. No, I want you to come to Ames’ home, met him, and tell him you are sorry. Maybe bring him a Hot Wheels car to make up for it.

To be completely honest though, what is worse than seeing such a hurtful article, is simply having my child associated with such a poorly written article. It’s straight up embarrassing.

Despite starting with a headline proclaiming that vegan and gluten free children worry experts, Shabnam then reports on a perfectly healthy (not gluten free!) child who has never worried any expert. This is followed up by discussing the rise of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free diets with a nutritionist who doesn’t really sound worried about vegan babies at all, but does mention that eating gluten free can be expensive, and fat free diets aren’t good for diets. This is our first clue that the author doesn’t really have any purpose, or idea of where this article is going.

She then gets distracted by baby-led weaning, which is wholly irrelevant to the story I thought she was telling. This is backed up with her discussion with a Ministry of Health spokesperson, who tells us that baby-led weaning isn’t recommended as there is a lack of research into it, but then also admits that the Ministry’s guidelines are outdated. Then something is mentioned about feeding a seven month old a piece of broccoli. This is where I feel things start to get awkward for the author. At this age, most children only have one or two teeth, and no one would ever try to feed them a piece of broccoli. Also, did they forget that Ames is three? This reads like a school student rushing an essay the night before it’s due – there are plenty of words, but no real story. Not to mention that they didn’t even get Ames’ name correct!

So Stuff editors, this is where I ask you, why did you even let such a terrible article be published? You’ve let one of your writers bully a child, and you’ve simply published a terrible piece of ‘journalism’. This isn’t a rhetorical question. My email address is mhitchcock@hotmail.co.nz and I look forward to hearing your explanation on this chain of events. I’ll give you a hint though – the answer is “this article never should have been published, we have retracted it and offer an apology to Ames, and Shabnam will be undertaking some training to learn how to actually write proper articles”.

Part Two: The Truth

Now that that is all out of the way, shall we address the issue that Shabnam was originally trying to discuss? I’m not really sure what that was though, so I’ll just cover everything.
A survey I did earlier this year revealed around one quarter of vegans have children, and one thirds of these children are being raised vegans. Vegans number around 1-2% of our population, and if you do the maths, that works out to be a really small number of vegan babies.
So what else may ‘experts’ be worried about, besides this small handful of kids? A quick Google search for the terms “expert children worried” enlightens us. Here are some of the things that seem to worry the experts:

  • The increasing number of children being diagnosed with anxiety
  • Obesity
  • Poverty
  • Child abuse and domestic violence

Compared to these issues, I don’t think Shabnam is too worried about vegan and gluten free babies, but is perhaps more worried about getting people to click on her articles.

Here’s another interesting point to consider. Imagine you were worried about your child’s nutrition. Being a responsible parent, you may take them to a doctor, Plunket nurse, nutritionist or other expert for advice. They’d kindly discuss everything with you, then hand you some brochures on iron and other such things to take home with you. Turn these over though, and you’ll see on the back that these were kindly printed by Beef + Lamb. While you may think you have some professional information in your hand, in reality all you have is an advertising brochure.

I admit that I’m no expert, but what worries me is that Beef + Lamb can masquerade their advertising material as nutritional advice, and many parents would be none the wiser. We wouldn’t trust McDonalds to provide nutritional advice, and nor should we trust any other business to provide nutritional advice when they have a vested interest in us consuming their products.

Part Three: An Introduction

13925665_10210226420686932_6597627639173204535_oAfter Shabnam’s terrible introduction of Ames, let me introduce you to him properly. This is Ames Hitchcock-Hume. This photo was taken a couple of weeks ago when he had the opportunity to meet some rescued bobby calves. He will be celebrating his fourth birthday next month. Recently he suffered his first heart break, when his best friend at daycare decided they no longer wanted to be his friend. His favourite Pokemon is Eeevee, and he loves playing with Hot Wheels cars. He likes cashews and pineapple, but not onion or capsicum.

Why I took my toddler to a protest

On Friday I took my 3 and a half year old toddler to a Slaughterhouse vigil. I know many people feel that “forcing” a child to attend a protest is big no-no; after all, how can a 3 year old have a well formed political view that they may wish to voice? Well, let me tell you when I first starting forcing my opinion on my child.

DSC01199He was maybe 2, and he had just started pulling on our cat’s tail for fun. He was learning how to interact with the world, and the cat’s tail provided a means to get a very obvious, and very predictable, response to his actions. As a responsible parent, I immediately put a stop to this behaviour.

“No, you are not allowed to pull the cat’s tail.” You and I both know why you shouldn’t pull a cat’s tail, but try explain that to a 2 year old. Because it is mean. Because the cat doesn’t like it. Because how would you like it if the cat did this to you? This is when I first started teaching my child that animals had feelings, that they felt pain, that they could not like something. And importantly, that we need to respect them (and hence, not be mean to them).

Not only is it important to me that my child shares this viewpoint, but I also expect him to champion it. When he sees another kid (or adult for that matter) being mean to, or harming, an animal, I would hope that he would actively speak up against that action. Unfortunately, in slaughterhouses, they tend to hit animals really hard in the head – in fact, they like to hit them so hard, harder than they’re physically capable of doing so themselves, that they have to use a tool to do so – so hard that the animal dies. I’ve already outlined my forced opinion of “don’t pull the cat’s tail, it’s mean”, so I’m sure you understand why I would also be opposed to this other sort of behaviour.

The nice thing about kids is that they’re natural born activists. They have an idea of what is right and what is wrong, and they have a very clear sense of justice. It is also a very simple, straight forward, sense. They don’t understand that actions can be quite complex things, there is contexts in which the meaning of an action may change, that there may be debated social issues at play, that it simply isn’t a black and white issue. In kid-world, it is black and white. If something is wrong, do not do it.

This extends well beyond animal rights. I want my son to speak up against all acts of injustice. As he grows up and goes through the school system, he will no doubt see an amount of bullying. And when he sees it, I want him to challenge it. Not only do I want my child to not be a bully himself, but I want him to actively defend others against bullies. As he travels through this world, and encounters all sorts of bigots. I want him to have a strong voice, and the courage and ability to say no. Say no to bullies, say no to racism, say no to sexism, say no to all harmful words and actions.

A final case in point. I have recently had to teach my son not to swear. Not only did I create a no swearing rule in my house, but I also created a rule empowering him to take action against swearing. If he hears someone else swear in my home, he has the authority to put them in time out for their behaviour. The reason I took my son to a slaughterhouse vigil was not to entrench in him the idea that killing animals is bad (like every other 3 year old, he already knows that), but to teach him to stand up against injustice – whatever form that injustice may take – and to stand up for what you believe in.

What’s Making Vegans

This is another post based on my 2016 survey of NZ Vegans, and as such applies to NZ specifically. I will briefly touch on this point in my survey report (coming soon!) but wish to expand on it in more detail here as I think it’s an interesting point of discussion.

One of the questions asked in my survey was “What was the most important reason you became vegan?”. The most common answers were Animal Rights (67.2%), The Environment (13.8%), and Health (14%). The interesting part though is how these motivators are changing over time.

As you can see, up until a few years ago, only 8% of vegans were becoming vegan for primarily environmental reasons. However, over the past few years, this proportion has more than doubled, such that 20% of people who became vegan in the past year did so for primarily environmental reasons. This is quite a large upwards trend, and who knows where it will level out.

So why do I think this is important enough to write a blog post about it? Because peoples attitudes are changing! For a long time, vegan activism has focused on the three-pillar “Animals, Environment, and Health” approach – and one of the pillars seems to be taking on much more weight.

My opinion is that there has been a huge increase of media attention in the more recent years on the role animal agriculture has in climate change, and it really seems that this is an effective message in driving people towards veganism. As successful advocates for veganism, we need to look at data such as this, ask ourselves “what do people respond to?”, and push that message to them. Do we ignore the animal rights or health messages? No, not at all. Animal rights is still the driving force behind movement to veganism, and deserves the most of our attention, but lets afford the environmental argument it’s due effort, and adjust our behaviours accordingly.

And if you’re here thinking “But what about the animals!? It’s the ethics of animal exploitation I want to focus on!” fear not, 80% of those who become vegan for mainly environmental reasons still also factor animal rights into their decision. Of that 20% who didn’t factor animal rights into their initial decision to become vegan, 70% of them now claim animal rights as one of the reasons they stay vegan.

NZ Vegan Groups

Animal Rehoming Charitable Trust

Anti Rodeo Action NZ

Auckland University Animal Rights Group

Black Sheep Animal Sanctuary

Chained Dog Awareness NZ (CDANZ)

Christchurch Animal Rights Action (CARA)

Christchurch Vegetarian Centre

Direct Animal Action

Dunedin Animal Rights Collective (DARC)

Dunedin/Otepoti Vegan Society (DOVeS)

Farmwatch

Go Vegan

Greyhound Protection League of New Zealand

HUHA

Invercargill Vegan Society (INVSOC)

NZ Anti-vivisection society (NZAVS)

NZ Vegetarian Society

Otago Student Animal Legal Defense Fund

SAFE

Sea Shepherd

Speak Up For Animals (SUFA)

Starfish Bobby Calf Project

Team Vegan

The Animal Sanctuary

The Roost (rooster sanctuary)

The Veganism and Animal Rights Society (VARS) of Otago University

Vega Northern Animal Rescue

Vegan Foster and Volunteers NZ

Vegan Society of Aotearoa New Zealand

Wellington Animal Rights Network (WARN)”

NZ Vegan Demographics Summary

A huge thanks to everyone who completed my survey! Over the month of April, I had over 900 responses (almost three times as many as the 2013 survey).

Here is a quick summary of the demographics of New Zealand vegans as at April 2016. This is just to tide you over while I work on a complete analysis of the data, which will provide more insight, and comparisons to the general population and 2013. It’s also a good quick reference guide for the key demographic data 🙂

Gender data is based on 852 responses. It’s pretty darn obvious that there are far more female vegans than male vegans.

Age data is based on 856 responses. My survey did ask for people 10 years and younger, but no one this age seems to have done so – possibly due to the fact that they mostly can’t read/write, and online surveys probably aren’t there thing; and no one seems to have done it on behalf of their child (myself included).

Because people could select more than one ethnicity, the count adds up to more than 100%; I’m being lazy, so aren’t going to work out the exact number of respondents, but we can probably assume it’s also around 850. Not surprisingly, NZ Europeans are over represented here.

Region data is based on 852 responses. Otago has really surprised me with this one. Overall, Otago has way less people than either Christchurch or Wellington (I think… haven’t actually looked it up yet), but just as many vegans. New vegan capital of the country?

Voting data is based on 716 responses. The “Did not vote” answer excludes people under the age of 18, but may include people who could not vote as they are not a resident. Lots of Green Party supporters!

This data is based on 729 responses. Overwhelmingly, the most difficult thing people find being vegan is limited options when eating out. Personally I think that’s probably a good thing, as it’s a fairly simple issue to tackle.

Should we care about E-numbers

This post was originally written in my mind back when Piegate (did anyone ever call it that? They should have) was a thing.

Before I start, I better get in before the vegan police do – sure, if a product contains an ingredient derived from animal products, it is technically by definition, not vegan. But should we really care about that?

What is the point of veganism? Is it to make sure no animal products go down our throats? Or is it to end the systematic oppression of animals? (Hint: it’s the second one). So technical definitions aside, what is the most beneficial action we can take to do this? (Hint: it’s not spend 3 hours every day memorising your E-numbers).

The harsh reality is that people are lazy. People may want to help animals, but they also want to be able to pick up a yummy looking piece of food and eat it. The easier we can make veganism, the more likely people will be to adopt it. And here I get to my point. E-numbers don’t make veganism easy – lets face it, they’re a pain in the arse. No one want’s to remember 1000 different numbers and where they come from, or have to email a company because there’s a 10% chance that one ingredient may be animal derived.

So why do it? No really, why? What do you get out of it? What do the animals get out of it? Not much, tbh. And what is the cost? It makes veganism difficult, and hard to sell. I started this post with reference to the Vegan pie that didn’t end up being vegan; as a great example. When a vegan pie came out it was a big deal, it made veganism a lot easier and more accessible. And then a news article appeared, and we were all fucked. Suddenly veganism went from petrol station easy to damn near impossible. Suddenly vegans couldn’t even eat vegan labeled food. Who would want to become a vegan when you can’t even safely eat food marketed to you? In my opinion, this was terrible press for us.

Did I care that a 0.001% of the pie was made from ground up chicken feathers? Not in the least. We and the chickens both have bigger things to deal with. 90 million chickens die every year in New Zealand alone for meat. What are a few ground up feathers in comparison to that?

In the fight to end animal oppression, our biggest goal is to move away from the idea of animals as food – i.e. don’t eat chickens. Do you really think that if we stop people eating chickens, they’ll still continue to farm them simply to use their feathers as a pastry conditioner? Doubtful.

Most E-numbers that are derived from animals are simply by-products. They are used simply because they are there to use. If the animals aren’t being raised for meat, then no one is going to raise them simply for the by-products. The economics just wouldn’t make sense. If we knock out the foundations, the rest will fall. There is no reason to waste our limited time and resources on such an insignificant part of veganism when there are much more important issues to tackle.